| There is a geologist and an anthropoligist connected with the University of Oregon who are studying the Summer Lake area. The geologist in particular is interested in warm springs/seeps and fossil sites that may be in the desert. The BLM map shows two springs close together near where I found my first fish fossils, so Last week I took a trip into the desert looking for them and maybe another fish or two.
OK. OK. OK. Enough suspense. I calulated some coordinates for my GPS and found three seeps where the map said two. One of the seeps has eroded a gully about 8 feet deep or so and 10-15 feet wide. About half way up on the bank there is a layer of some white stuff. After I followed the gully for a while I thought it might be interesting to see what the white stuff was. Not too much farther along there was a place that had been eroded where runoff had fed into the gully. It seemed a likely way down. Down was easy.
The bottom of the gully was wet and had some standing water. As it turns out, when wet, alkali mud is very slippery and will support very little weight. It became immediately obvious to me that climbing back up the bank was much more important than checking out the white layer across the gully. As I put my foot on the bank to climb up, the bank just slid out from under me. A higher step only produced more slop where I was standing. The kind of slop that pulled back when you tried to pull your foot out. High enough up the ground was hard and dry, but anyplace I grabbed to pull myself up was brittle and just broke off. There were fleeting visions of the La Brea tar pits and someone finding my skeleton about 27.36 million years from now.
On this trip I was experimenting with carrying a machete. I had fastened the end to the instep of my boot and tied the handle just below my knee. It worked pretty well. I shoved it into the bank about two feet up to use for a step. It went in really easily and fortunately it held. Now, I have to go back out there when things dry up and retrieve it. What will the blade look like after being stuck in a solution of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium hydroxides and who knows what else? It'll be interesting.
In any event, the seep looked interesting.
The rounded white rocks in the lower left are tufa and are made by warm springs. On my original fishing trip I had found an antelope vertebrea and was carrying it around. Mark Swisher explained to me that it was not a vertebrea but a rock. The hole was not for the spinal column but made by flowing warm water that deposited the minerals around it. As minerals were deposited, the hole grew longer and formed a pipe-like structure. Graciously, he didn't actually laugh at my antelope theory.
Winter Ridge in the background.
| For stereo fans (cross your eyes), here is a desert view from another seep. Greasewood in front and the reddish plant is salt grass. Just beyond the salt grass is a wash that follows along the edge of the sand dune on the right. Another sand dune tails off in the distance on the left. Yes, this part of the desert is covered with alkali. Not only is the sun warm, but it reflects off the white alkali for double heating. It's a hard country.
The white stuff lying on the desert floor looking like snow is alkali. It is light and fluffy to walk on; your feet sink in 3-4 inches and so it makes walking hard. "Fluffy" isn't quite the right word. It really forms a fragile crust. I suspect some of it is deposited like drifting snow when it is blown up from the margin of Summer Lake just a couple miles away. Why it forms a light crust is still a mystery to me. Why doesn't it soak into the ground when it rains?
Recently, there were 80 acres (as I remember) of this kind of country for sale for $20,000 on Craig's List. It was advertised as a place with plenty of water for someone to have a nice little farm. I suspect the seller was hoping to sell it sight unseen. I thought about offering $100 for all 80 acres and renting it to a rancher. I'd probably get my money back in a hundred years or so - not counting taxes.
Here is Mark Swisher examining some sediment grains form the old Lake Chewaucan lake bed. This is a common pose for field geologists, biologists, anthropoligists...
To my surprise the sand dunes are not really sand but sediment that hasn't eroded away. A cut bank, like the one Mark is in front of, has hundreds of layers. For the most part the layers alternate from coarse to fine sediment. Fine sediment stays suspended in the lake water when there is a lot of wave action and it settles out when the lake is calmer - like when it is frozen over. Pairs of these layers count the years. Of course, there is other stuff, like ash from volcanic eruptions.
Another stereo pair. Ellen and Mark inspecting the spring I had visited the week earlier. It's too bad they moved, it makes them a little blurry.
We approached the seep from the south - that is, we came up to the gully from the side. It wasn't until we were about 30-40 feet away that we could see it. I was beginning to think I was in the wrong place, but suddenly, almost magically, it appeared.
I retrieved my machete. I took some light rope, snared the handle, and pulled it loose. Almost all the paint had been eaten away by a week in alkali mud. The places were the paint had already been missing had corroded. All in all, though, it looked pretty good.
It was glad to be rescued.
|Not all things in the desert are harsh.|